Working in the Philippines is not at all a burden for me. I have very good memories of the time I lived there with my family in the early nineties.  Therefore I was thrilled to be invited to do a workshop in Manila this year.


The Center for Community Transformation in the Philippines asked me to introduce the Free Actors in Networks approach to board members and core staff. It turned out to be an intense experience for all involved.


CCT is a partner of Woord en Daad, a Dutch Christian NGO which is part of the alliance building endeavour supported by MDF (Management for Development Foundation). It is part of the Asian Regional Alliance(ARA).


When Ruth Callanta, the president of CCT, learned about the Spiral of Initiatives,  and discovered that there were more tools like it, she did not wait for the authorisation of all the ARA partners to organise a training session. She hired me directly to give a three day workshop for her centre. Not just for core staff, but also the board.


The board consists mainly of successful business people, and so the first two days were held in Makati, the business district of Manila, in a luxurious hotel. I arrived to a very formal setting in the conference room, with the tables in a "U" formation and fancy drapery in the background.


I wanted an open space with chairs around it. This is what I need to bring the tools to life, by visualising them on the floor. Hotel staff became quite nervous when I requested this, but they did eventually change the setting. The result was an open, informal atmosphere and the board members actively participated in the discussions.


(Not all board members could be there, so the full three days of the workshop were filmed. No half measures in this NGO!)


On the first day we discussed the differences between networks and organisations. I invited them to list contributing factors to success and failure in networks. Many of these factors appeared to be beyond direct control.




How do you manufacture dedication, good relationships and trust?

This was a good introduction to the Circle of Coherence, placing Vital Space in the middle. This space, where people feel free to pursue their ambitions in cooperation with others, cannot be controlled directly. If you feed it, it may grow. But it can be easily damaged or destroyed. When this happens, something must be done to stop the destructive pattern and restore connection.


In the afternoon we discussed the Triangle of Change. This illustrates the relationship between people who want change and the structure within which change should take place. A clarifying role play revealed what could go wrong and what was needed to become an effective agent of change.


To overcome the misgivings actors may have against each other takes time, diplomacy, strategy and sometimes a deep breath.

A level of mutual respect and acceptance is necessary between people who need each other to realise their goals.  Otherwise they cannot complement each other's respective positions.


It helps if there is at least one person who is more accepted (or in some cases, simple less subject to suspicion) than the others involved. They can do what it takes to get it this far.


This is the Free Actor. They can act with or without a mandate, simply because they believe that action needs to be taken at this time. The role of the Free Actor is crucial to networks, where mandates are unclear.  If the mandate is clear, then there is good chance that it is incompatible with the desired change.


Mandates are there to maintain the structure, not to change it.

This does not mean, however, that anything goes. If the Free Actor does not earn the position in which they are accepted, they will not be effective.


On the second day we made a Timeline of the history of CCT, starting from its foundation in 1992. It worked well to ask the key persons involved from the outset to tell the story...


Difficult times occurred when it was decided to focus on evangelical work, in addition to community development. This meant that some very capable consultants had to go, because they did not share the religious mission.


A particularly dramatic episode was the murder of three staff members in Mindenao, the Southern island, where Muslim violence against Christians is common. However, the respectful response of CCT moved the community where it happened, and actually resulted in stronger support and more participation.


Difficult moments and breakthrough moments usually go together.


After this we worked with the Spiral of Initiatives and the Network Analysis. Although the first day was intended for the board members and the other two for core staff, quite a number of board members participated on the second day as well.


The last day was a recap of the tools and concepts. The participants were so eager to apply the theory directly to their practice, that I skipped the exercises I had planned, as this was even better.


CCT has become a large organisation, with many branches all around the country. They are active in microfinance and education; they work with the homeless, with street children, and much more.


The number of branches, or ministries as they call them, has grown to a level at which coordination becomes a real challenge. It is going beyond the capacity of a hierarchical organisation with strong leadership, as it is now.


A network structure is then the logical next step.


But how to maintain the focus on the mission and leading principles, whilst giving more responsibility to the branches?

The FAN approach offers useful language and concepts to explore the process of becoming a network organisation. Looking back on the vivid discussions which arose during this workshop, it seems like just a taste of things to come.






The Spiral of Initiatives